Swiss magazine defends provocative Roma boy cover

A Swiss magazine's cover showing a Gypsy boy waving a toy gun has provoked anger among anti-racism campaigners who say it whips up prejudice against one of Europe's poorest minorities, prompting the publication to defend itself Thursday.

Germany's Central Council for Sinti and Roma said earlier this week that it had filed criminal complaints against Zurich weekly Weltwoche for racial incitement and defamation.

The group's chairman, Romani Rose, said in a statement Tuesday that the article and the cover portrayed all Gypsies as criminals, and called for sales of the magazine to be halted.

The cover image, which was originally taken in 2008 by Italian photographer Livio Mancini who photographed children playing on a garbage dump in Kosovo, appeared above the headline "The Roma are coming: raids in Switzerland."

Weltwoche said the harsh criticism and lawsuits filed against it in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were unjustified because it was merely trying to highlight what it said was a problem of Gypsy gangs coming to Switzerland to commit crimes.

"Racism occurs when the negative byproducts of migration are declared a taboo (topic) and concealed," the magazine's editor Roger Koeppel said.

Switzerland's Federal Commission against Racism said it was looking into the matter.

"I think the combination of the cover image and the title are very problematic," said Guelcan Akkaya, a member of the commission. "This isn't about highlighting problems, but pushing fears and prejudices."

Roma have been the target of racist attacks in Europe over centuries, and were among the groups persecuted by Nazi Germany.

Earlier this week, a riot broke out in a suburb of Serbia's capital, Belgrade, when residents protested the building of a Gypsy settlement there.